AYSO National Referee Program

From AYSO Wiki

AYSO is renowned for our robust referee program designed specifically for volunteer referees. To complement our age-appropriate programs for players ages 3 to 19, AYSO has comprehensive and practical training for today’s officials.

RefPicture1.jpg

Most volunteers begin by taking the Regional Referee Course which provides the basic aspects of refereeing needed to officiate youth AYSO matches (10U and below) under IFAB Laws of the Game, and AYSO National Rules & Regulations. Following on an initial rewarding volunteer experience, many referees pursue upgrades to Intermediate Referee (12U and below), Advanced Referee (14U and below) and National Referee (19U and below).

That said, AYSO's 8U Official in-person course trains volunteers as young as 10 years old to officiate in 8U matches.

To provide an upgrade path for our Youth and Adult volunteer officials, AYSO Referee Instructors work with AYSO Assessors to train and mentor you as you enhance your skills as Referees.

AYSO Referees certified Intermediate and above can cross-certify to USSF to be eligible to officiate US Soccer club games.

Why do this? It’s fun and easy. Jump in today.

Questions? Want to know where to get help for your program? Contact the National Referee Council at ayso.nationalrefcouncil@gmail.com or contact your Section Referee Adminstrator for guidance and support.

Health & Safety Training

All Referees must register annually and complete an annual background check and have current training certifications:

This required training can be found in AYSOU.

California, Indiana, Maryland, Ohio, Tennessee, Washington require completion of Sudden Cardiac Arrest training. AYSO recommends that all referees complete this.

California AB 506 requires volunteers who have direct contact with children 16 hours a month or 32 hours per year, which applies to most coaches, referees, team parents, and board members who spend 2 or more hours on the field weekly, to have a one-time background check as approved by the California Department of Justice. This background check is known as LiveScan. Details can be found here.

2024 Annual Referee Update

Catch up on the updates to the AYSO Referee Program and 2024 Laws of the Game.

Read all about it!

Subscribe to Whistle Stop!

AYSO has several newsletters that contain valuable information for all AYSO members. For Executive Members (Insider) , Coaches (Hey Coach) and Referees (Whistle Stop).

Missing a back issue? Check out the Whistle Stop Archive.

There is something for everyone. Subscribe here.

Access Referee Materials on AYSOU

All AYSO documents and instructional materials may be accessed on AYSOU.

Login then look under Document Library > Referee Manuals

Reference Manuals & Other Materials

Additional materials also available to help you build a successful officiating program include:



Need to contact the National Referee Council?

Send us a note at ayso.nationalrefcouncil@gmail.com.

Referee FAQ's

Player Equipment

Can players wear Medical Alert Bracelets?

Youths may participate in games and practices while wearing medical alert bracelets.  It is important that this information remains visible.  However, to ensure the bracelet does not present a danger to the player or other players it must be secured to the player with tape, a cloth wristband or something equivalent taking care to leave the information visible.

We must all recognize that if the bracelet is removed and lost or hidden in any way, the child might be put in danger, particularly if the parents are not present to ensure that the medical condition is known.

We must also recognize that it is unlikely that a medical alert bracelet, when properly covered, will pose a danger to the other players.  Medical alert sports bands with a snug fitting soft, polyester ribbon band are available and should be permitted without modification.

May a player wear a cast or splint?

AYSO National Rules & Regulations paragraph VI.E. states: “Team members shall not be allowed to practice or participate in any match with any type of cast or splint.”

May a player remove a cast or splint in order to participate?

AYSO National Rules & Regulations paragraph VI.E. states: “Removal of any type of cast or splint at the field or surrounding area in order to participate shall disqualify the team member from practice or match participation.”

Removable casts are designed to facilitate personal hygiene and dressing; they are not meant to be removed so that a player may engage in contact sports.

Are players permitted to wear knee braces?

AYSO National Policy Statement 2.9 titled “Knee Braces” reads as follows: “AYSO will not prohibit the use of knee braces by players in AYSO events and programs; provided that the knee brace is adequately covered and padded in the opinion of the Referee so as to eliminate the possibility of its use causing injury to other players on the field of play.”

The difference between casts or splints and knee braces is that a cast or splint is used for the treatment of a temporary injury to provide for healing.  The use of a knee brace is different in that it is used to provide support and/or flexibility.  Knee braces are designed to allow for flexibility of movement, while conversely, a cast or splint is designed to restrict mobility.

Are players permitted to wear any other kind of medical devices?

If the device is needed to restrict mobility, protect an injury or support proper alignment to expedite the healing process of a temporary injury and is hard (cast, spliIf the device is needed to restrict mobility, protect an injury or support proper alignment to expedite the healing process of a temporary injury, and is hard (cast, splint, etc.) then this is not allowed. If, on the other hand, the protective device is used to provide support, and flexibility or enable an otherwise healthy player to function normally such as a knee brace, prosthesis, hearing aid, insulin pump/monitor, monitoring device, concussion impact reduction aids such soft header helmets and collars that are age and size appropriate, etc., then this would be allowed provided the device was sufficiently padded to prevent injury to other players. The Laws of the Game specify that “A player must not use equipment or wear anything dangerous.” The Referee is the sole judge of whether or not the individual item in question is permissible to wear in the game.

May players wear glasses?

Players who require prescription glasses are to be allowed to wear them during practices and games.  For the greatest safety, retaining straps should be worn or rubber bands may be used for this purpose.  Prescription goggles, such as the type used by racquetball players, are also permitted subject to the approval of the Referee prior to the start of the match.  Spectacle guards made of plastic or other hard material are not permitted.

May players wear hearing aids?

Players who normally wear hearing aids are also allowed to wear them during practices or games. Hearing device implants must be protected with the manufacturers protective headband device to aid in keeping the unit protected and secure. Parents should consult their medical professional for further guidance.

Are players permitted to wear mouth guards?

AYSO does not prohibit the use of mouth guards.  Parents are encouraged to consult their child’s dentist or orthodontist to determine what, if any, mouth guard is appropriate for their child.  Players wearing mouth guards should not be prevented from participating in practice or games.

Are players permitted to wear jewelry, earrings or studs?

Jewelry (removable and those designed to be non-removable), including earrings, of any kind worn in any visible body piercing or any hard replacement stud used when the jewelry is not being worn must be removed before the player is allowed to participate in a practice or game. Covering the jewelry or hard replacement stud with tape, padding or bandage is not sufficient; the jewelry or hard replacement stud must be removed before playing. Subject to the approval of the Referee, various soft, flexible materials that present no danger to

the player or other players may be used to keep recent body piercings open for participation during games. In the case of visible taped-over or bandaged suspected piercings, Referees must not ask players to lift or remove articles of clothing or bandages. It is acceptable, however, to ask a player if the tape or bandages is covering an earring. The Referee must accept the answer provided, regardless of suspicion, and if in the opinion of the Referee, the item is deemed to be dangerous, the player will not be allowed to participate on that day. Coaches have the responsibility of not allowing players wearing jewelry to participate in practices or games. Coaches and Referees are role models and should avoid wearing jewelry, earrings, and hard replacement studs during practices or games.

Are players permitted to wear hats for medical or religious reasons?

The Laws of the Game specify that “A player must not use equipment or wear anything which is dangerous.” The Referee is the sole judge of whether or not the individual item in question is permissible to wear in the game.  The Referee has the obligation and the right to allow or disallow players wearing additional equipment depending upon the Referee’s best judgment.

Players are generally not permitted to wear hats, but items used to secure hair such as sweatbands, bandanas, scarves, etc. are sometimes permitted.  Players may be allowed to wear soft hats or caps without hard brims if the weather is inclement.  Goalkeepers may wear a soft brimmed hat or cap.  In addition to the above requirements the brim must also be made of a soft material and must be approved by the Referee.  Baseball-style caps with hard brims are not acceptable even if worn backwards.  These items should be a neutral color free of inappropriate design, logo or meaning.  They must not constitute a danger to the player or to other players and must be approved by the Referee.

Referees may allow a player to wear a hat with a soft brim and otherwise not dangerous to the player or other players if, indeed, the player is known to be unusually susceptible to skin cancer from exposure to the sun or the head garment is required by the players religion.

Are there any special requirements in regard to player fingernails?

There is no official AYSO or USSF position on the length of players’ fingernails.  Players are not allowed to “wear” anything that is dangerous to themselves or another player.  The acceptable length and shape or adornment of fingernails is up to the good judgment of the Referee.  In general, long or fake fingernails are not to be considered dangerous by themselves.  However, the use of such as a deterrent should be sanctioned according to the severity of use.

Are there any special requirements for soccer shoes and shinguards?

Soccer shoes and shinguards made by any established soccer equipment manufacturer are acceptable.  Other shoes are acceptable if, in the opinion of the Referee, they are not dangerous to the player wearing them or to another player and the shinguards afford the player a reasonable degree of protection.  A piece of cardboard rolled up newspaper or similar makeshift items do not constitute proper shinguards.  The Referee must inspect all cleats to ensure there are no sharp edges; this is especially important for aluminum and nylon cleats.

Shinguards must be completely covered by the player’s stockings.  Players are not allowed to wear their shinguards over their stockings and then roll the stockings down over the shinguards.  The shinguards must be worn completely under the stockings.

Are toe cleats illegal on soccer shoes?

It has been perpetuated that toe cleats are illegal in soccer.  This may have developed from the fact that some players new to the game felt they should wear cleats for soccer games and showed up in baseball shoes which often have cleats on the toe.  Many styles of soccer shoes are now on the market and some of them have cleat configurations that wrap across the toe.  A blanket statement that toe cleats are not allowed is too narrow.  The myth that metal cleats are not legal is also not uncommon.  Metal cleats (usually aluminum) are acceptable, but the Referee must inspect all types of cleats on shoes to ensure that there are no burrs or sharp edges and, if they exist, burrs or sharp edges must be removed before the player is allowed to participate.  The Referee must examine the particular footwear in question and determine if it presents any unreasonable danger to the participants.

Are players permitted to wear sleeveless jerseys?

Although Law 4 states that jerseys must have sleeves, it is still the position of both USSF and AYSO that no individual or team should be kept from playing because their jerseys do not have sleeves.  Players are also not prohibited from rolling or tying up jersey sleeves provided it is done in a safe manner.

Are players permitted to play with hair beads/clips/bobbie pins?

Hair Beads and Clips: Hair control devices and other adornments, such as beads, worn in the hair must meet the following criteria: - Be securely fastened to the head. - Do not present an increased risk to the player, teammates, or opponents. - Flat clips less than two inches in length may be used to hold the hair in place close to the head so long as their placement on the head does not present an increased risk to the player, teammates or opponents. - Hair charms are still considered jewelry and are not permitted. (See diagrams in the Referee Guideline below for examples)

The Referee makes the final decision on what is safe to wear during the game.

May players wear additional protective equipment?

The Laws of the Game specify the following regarding other equipment:

"Non-dangerous protective equipment, for example headgear, facemasks and knee and arm protectors made of soft, lightweight padded material is permitted as are goalkeepers’ caps and sports spectacles."

AYSO neither endorses nor refutes the claims of companies which produce products intended to increase player safety.  It is the responsibility of the Referee to examine the specific piece of equipment in question and then make a decision regarding whether or not it presents any danger to the player themselves or to other players.  The Referee has the obligation and right to allow or disallow players wearing the item depending upon the Referee’s best judgment.

Face masks similar to the type hockey goalies or football players wear are not allowed for goalkeepers or field players because they are constructed of hard material and would pose a danger to other players.

Players may be allowed to wear soft hats or caps without brims.  They must not constitute a danger to the player or to other players and must be approved by the Referee.  Goalkeepers may wear a brimmed hat or cap.  In addition to the above requirements the brim must also be made of a soft material and must be approved by the Referee.  Baseball-style caps with hard brims are not acceptable even if worn backwards.

May players wear sweatbands, bandanas, scarves or other items to secure hair?

The Referee is the sole judge of whether or not such items may be worn based on the Referee’s assessment of the particular item and its function.  Supplemental items worn for adornment are generally not permitted.  Items the Referee believes are not dangerous to the player or to other players and serve the purpose of hair control, perspiration absorption or to conform to religious requirements are permitted.  These items should be a neutral color and be free of inappropriate design, logo or meaning.

May players wear gloves?

Goalkeepers are traditionally allowed to wear gloves.  Other players may also wear gloves if, in the opinion of the Referee, the equipment poses no danger.

Is a female player allowed to use her hands to protect her chest?

All players (male and female) may PROTECT themselves from being hit by the ball by using their hand or hands.  This may happen unexpectedly during play or from a free kick when they are positioned as defensive players in a wall (commonly seen at upper levels of play).  Self-defense is not an offense; however, DELIBERATE use of the hands to CONTROL the ball or otherwise alter its path, is an offense.

Referees are charged with determining whether or not the contact of ball and hand was to control the ball or for self-protection.  Female players who use their hands or arms to CONTROL a ball which is about to hit them in the chest are guilty of handling the ball.  The same would be true for male players who used their hands or arms to CONTROL a ball which was about to hit them in the face or groin area.

Referee Equipment

What is the uniform dress code for Referees?

The AYSO National Referee Program encourages Referees, and Assistant Referees to follow the uniform standards for match officials established by USSF. Throughout the soccer community, Referees, and Assistant Referees are identified by their uniforms.

What is the USSF Referee Uniform standard?

AYSO referees should wear the shirt style, and colors currently recommended by the United States Soccer Federation. The colors are as follows: Primary shirt color:

  • Yellow

Alternate colors:

  • Black
  • Red
  • Blue
  • Green

The alternate jersey may be worn when the yellow jersey will not provide a clear contrast to either team’s shirt colors. Uniformity on the part of Referees establishes initial credibility for them as a team. The Referee, and ARs should wear shirts of similar color, and style. If the Referee wears an alternate jersey of a color that the ARs do not have, the ARs’ jerseys, whenever possible, should match each other.

What is the appropriate Referee badge for AYSO Referees?

The only badge appropriate for Referees to wear is the highest AYSO Referee certification level badge earned by the Referee. Exceptions: A FIFA Professional Referee may wear their FIFA badge, and, if provided, special Referee tournament badges may be worn by Referees during that tournament’s games.

Are Referees permitted to wear a cast or splint while Refereeing?

AYSO National Rules & Regulations prohibit players from participating in practices or games while wearing a cast or splint (even with a doctor’s permission). However, there is no such prohibition for Referees to officiate while wearing a cast or splint even if they are youth Referees. The likelihood of an injury to players occurring from contact with the Referee’s cast or splint is very remote. Some padding on the cast may add a measure of protection.

May Referees wear hats or sunglasses?

If hats are worn for sun-protection health reasons, the following guidelines should be observed:

  • Solid black or predominately black with white trim
  • Hats

should bear no logo or slogans, with the exception that AYSO logos (traditional, Regional, or tournament) are permitted. Sunglasses are discouraged for Referees as this restricts communication through eye contact with players, and are generally considered unnecessary adornment.

Referee Miscellaneous

May Regions adopt local playing rules outside of IFAB, and AYSO rules?

The very first line of the AYSO National Rules & Regulations states, “All AYSO games shall be conducted per the current IFAB Laws of the Game, and decisions of the International Board…” The bulk of the remaining content of the AYSO National Rules & Regulations clarifies the kind of specific exceptions which are permitted. In the beginning of the IFAB Laws of the Game under “Modifications” it states, “Subject to the agreement of the national association concerned, and provided the principles of these Laws are maintained, the Laws may be modified in their application…”, and then specifies the kinds of modifications that are permissible. These statements endeavor to make it clear how AYSO games should be played, and who, how, and to what extent the Laws may be modified.

Making a local rule in the presumed interest of player safety may appear well-intentioned on the surface but careful consideration must be given to the overall effect of the rule, and whether or not it is permissible or, in fact, beneficial. It is the job of Coaches to teach players correct techniques to help them avoid injury to themselves, and others. It is the job of Referees to learn to recognize when skills are executed correctly or not.

Players should develop, Coaches should teach, and Referees should learn to recognize the skills that are a part of the game of soccer. When we make a local rule that takes away one or more of the skills used in playing the game this lessens the opportunities for players to learn to execute the skill correctly, Coaches to teach the skill, and Referees to recognize the skill performed legally. An argument could be made that such local rules actually may cause more injuries than they prevent because Coaches will be discouraged from teaching correct techniques to the players since there is a local rule prohibiting the skill.

Does AYSO have any “Mercy Rules,” “Slaughter Rules” or “Blowout Rules”?

There are no such rules in AYSO to deal with games where one team is dominating the scoring. In any competition, there is a chance that the score will be lopsided. We believe such things as “Blowout Rules,” “Mercy Rules,” “Slaughter Rules,” etc. that end a game prematurely or “play short” rules that require the winning team to play with fewer than the allowable number of players or rules that require teams to somehow stop scoring goals only penalizes a team for accomplishing what it has been trained to accomplish (score goals), and sends the wrong message to the losing team.

A major part of the sport is enjoying the process of playing by the players- not just who ultimately wins. The message we want to send is “keep on trying”- not to give up just because it is difficult. Losing, when dealt with appropriately, builds character, and resolves to improve. Mercy Rules, play-short rules, or similar rules potentially build a willingness to give up early or to want rules in place to give teams an unfair advantage just because they are losing.

Each team is entitled to start and play the game with the maximum number of players allowable. Nowhere in the Laws of the Game or the AYSO National Coaching or Refereeing Program is it suggested or required to have a winning team play with fewer players than the losing team or for the game to end early or similar rules because the score is lopsided. AYSO’s “Balanced Team” concept refers to making an honest attempt to balance the skill level of teams within an age group when teams are formed before the beginning of the season. In situations where one or both teams are short a significant number of players; a “friendly match” could be organized by combining/sharing players from one or both teams. Where won/loss standings are recorded, the outcome of the “friendly match” would not affect the standings. It should be predetermined and agreed upon in advance how the official outcome of the regularly scheduled game is to be recorded. Regions should not adopt local rules, and Referees should not interfere with games because of lopsided scores. It is a player’s game, and they should be given the full playing time without undue interference to enjoy, and learn from the process.

When are substitutions allowed in AYSO 13U/14U, 15U/16U, and 17U/18U/19U games where Monitored (free) Substitution is being used rather than the normal AYSO substitution at “quarters”?

Monitored Substitution is allowed in 13U/14U, 15U/16U, and 17U/18U/19U age divisions only if it is handled in a manner that will ensure that every participant plays at least one half of every game by requiring a separate time monitor, independent of the Coaches, who checks each player in or out of the game.

Where Monitored Substitution is being used in 13U/14U, 15U/16U, and 17U/18U/19U games, substitutions will be permitted with the Referee’s permission during any stoppage in play as specified in the IFAB Laws of the Game, Law 3 (The Number of Players) as well as in the section titled “Practical Guidelines for Match Officials”. Substitution rules used in High School, College, or other soccer organizations do not apply to AYSO games. The substitution procedures used in games played according to the IFAB Laws of the Game will be in effect. Namely, when a substitution is requested (the Assistant Referee signals a substitution has been requested), the Referee will determine when there is an appropriate stoppage in play, and will then allow the substitution to occur as outlined by the Laws of the Game.

Cookies help us deliver our services. By using our services, you agree to our use of cookies.